Getting to Know Your Gallbladder

a caveman is suffering pain in his gallbladder
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This easily forgettable internal organ doesn’t get much respect. But if anything goes wrong, it can cause the mightiest of us all to double over in pain.

The purpose of the gallbladder is to help the body digest fat and concentrate the bile that the liver produces. It looks a little like a barely-inflated balloon and often comes into play when a meal with a high fat content enters the small intestine, helping speed the digestive process.

The relative insignificance of the gallbladder now is contrary to the more exalted role it played in the past. Historically speaking, it was once a big deal.

The gallbladder’s name dates back to the days when it was thought that health was dependent on four bodily fluids: blood, phlegm, black bile (liver) and yellow bile (gallbladder). Too much yellow bile, it was believed, increased a man’s aggression or, in English, his “gall.”

The Roman anatomist Galen identified it as a crucial subsidiary organ of the liver, which he considered to be the principle organ of the human body. But as time has passed and the knowledge of the human body has increased, its role has been seen as less central.

Gallstones are the most common problem associated with the gallbladder. These can also cause the organ to become inflamed, resulting in high fevers and a significant amount of pain.

In rare cases the gallbladder can also be cancerous, or it can become impacted to the point that it affects the ability of the pancreas to drain, which in turn causes that organ to be inflamed—a much more serious complication.

Anyone who has ever had gallstones might agree that the gallbladder is useless. While that’s not actually the case, it is also typically not a disaster if it has to be removed.

Loss of the gallbladder may increase the risk of diarrhea or fat malabsorption, but for the most part someone who is otherwise healthy won’t suffer observable problems in health or digestion if it is removed.

Obviously, it’s better to avoid such problems in the first place. That means avoiding gallbladder issues created by modern dietary and lifestyle habits.

Those who are obese are at a greater risk of gallstones, which means losing weight, eating healthy and exercising regularly are key. High cholesterol counts are also associated with this ailment, as are hereditary factors.

It is important to note that those looking to lose weight by fasting or eating very little may be putting themselves at risk. That’s because a lack of food causes the bile to sit for extended stretches which can encourage the formation of crystals.

For anyone worried about gallbladder problems, or those who have a family history of trouble with this organ, it’s another case where the caveman diet may help mitigate health risks.

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